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PLoS One. 2017 Apr 20;12(4):e0175222. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0175222. eCollection 2017.

Preventing, treating, and predicting barbering: A fundamental role for biomarkers of oxidative stress in a mouse model of Trichotillomania.

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Department of Animal Sciences, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, United States of America.
Livestock Behavior Research Unit, Agricultural Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture, West Lafayette, Indiana, United States of America.
Department of Comparative Medicine, Stanford University, Stanford, California, United States of America.
(By Courtesy) Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University, Stanford, California, United States of America.


Barbering, where a "barber" mouse plucks hair from its cagemates or itself, is both a spontaneously occurring abnormal behavior in mice and a well validated model of Trichotillomania (TTM). N-Acetylcysteine, (NAC) a cysteine derived food additive, is remarkably effective in treating TTM patients, but its mechanism of action is unknown. Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS), also known as free radicals, form as a natural byproduct of the normal metabolism of oxygen. Under normal circumstances, cells are able to defend themselves against ROS damage with antioxidant pathways. NAC is the precursor to the main antioxidant produced to defend the brain. Therefore, we hypothesized that barbering is a disease of oxidative stress, whereby ROS and/or a failure of antioxidant defenses leads to neuronal damage that induces barbering in susceptible animals. We tested this hypothesis in 32 female C57BL/6J mice by treating half with 1g/kg BW/day of NAC in their diet, and testing for protection against developing barbering behavior and curing of barbering behavior, and simultaneously testing for a panel of biomarkers of oxidative stress. NAC reduced the chance that mice would be barbers, and this effect did not differ between healthy (i.e. prevention) and affected animals (i.e. cure). Barbering animals had elevated urinary antioxidant capacity, indicative of oxidative stress, at all timepoints. Additionally, after treatment the risk of barbering increased with decreasing hydroxy-2'-deoxyguanosine (8-OHdG) levels, and with increasing glutathione (GSH) and oxidized glutathione (GSSG) levels, further indicating that barbering mice were under oxidative stress regardless of treatment with NAC. We did not find compelling evidence that urinary total antioxidant capacity, or urinary 8-OHdG, could predict response to NAC treatment. We conclude that NAC is effective in preventing and/or curing barbering at least in part by promoting GSH synthesis, thereby preventing oxidative damage.

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